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From London to Chicago

The end of December 2006

In Nottingham, England, I packed up the possessions in my house into boxes and bags, giving away or selling things that I would not be able to take with me. I was abandoning my university studies after a year and a half, and altogether too much of my own hard earned money. I had not managed to find someone else to rent my attic room so that I could break the contract, the person I had lined up let me down at the last minute. I left anyway, leaving behind posters on the walls and furniture scattered around the room, perhaps the free furniture could be an apology to the people who I shared the house with. They would have to find someone new to take my room.

With friends in our favourite places, a red letterbox and the local bum.

My parents picked me up and took me and the remainder of my belongings, mostly books and clothes, back to their house where I spent my last Christmas with my family. I packed up my single suitcase with clothes and important small keepsakes. I had to leave behind my books because they were too many.

My parents drove down to London where we stayed overnight in a hotel to be ready for my early flight the next day. The line in the airport was ridiculously long and it seemed like we were waiting forever. My parents left and I went through security, everything went fine and I got on a plane headed to Ireland where I was to change planes and head to Chicago. Ireland was where the trouble started.

For some reason, U.S. immigration was in Ireland instead of the U.S. In hindsight I'm thankful for that because of what followed. I get a grumpy man at the immigration desk, I didn't have the correct visa. I was sent to one of the scary little rooms to be interrogated, there was an Irish American family in front of me, the wife having problems with re entering the U.S. on her Green Card. "This always happens," she gave me an exasperated smile.

The immigration officials decided that I was trying to enter the U.S. with the intention to work illegally. I explained that I could easily get paid more by just staying in England, he wasn't particularly impressed (my mouth gets me in trouble sometimes). My luggage was taken off the plane and I was led out of a secret door back to the main airport, along with a very scared looking asian family. There I was left, the immigration official told me that I was very lucky that he wasn't going to file the paperwork to have me barred from entering the U.S. for 3 years. That I could try again tomorrow.

I was stranded in Ireland with no Euros and a cellphone that was about to run out of battery. I went outside and tried to hold back tears while I lit a cigarette. I called my (future) husband and he answered sleepily. I tried to explain what was going on. I called my parents and tried to decide what to do.

I had no money or transport to get a hotel room for the night and then pay for another ticket to the U.S. the next day. Trying to figure out my options, I wandered around the airport talking to different employees. "Hey, you're the girl who didn't make it to Chicago?!" I became known among the airport staff for that day at least. Even the man who helped me with my bags knew who I was. What a 15 minutes of fame.

After much deliberation, I exchanged my ticket for one going back to London. I called my parents who came to meet me when I arrived, my dad having paid for a second ticket for the following day.

The flight the next day went as planned. I arrived at immigration in Minneapolis, I was so nervous the immigration official must have seen it. He seemed suspicious of me, but luckily my failed attempt from the previous day hadn't been recorded in my passport information. He let me through and I just about kissed him and cartwheeled with joy through the airport. I managed to refrain myself lest he change his mind.

I called my future husband from the airport in Minneapolis to tell him the good news before boarding the plane to Chicago. The rest is history, my husband met me at the baggage claim in O'Hare with one of his friends. We drove out to his cousins place and hung out. We got a hotel that night, went to a New Years party at an apartment belonging to one of his old band mates on the next night and were married three days later (which is another story in itself).

It's been three years, so much has changed and so little.

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I am a 24 year old British stay at home mother to a two year old boy. Married to a U.S. soldier and currently living in Germany.

I have seen the Vatican from the very top of St Peter's Basilica, the mud in the World War I trenches outside Ypres. I have walked through Montmartre side streets bustling with people in the evening, gotten lost in the streets of Greenwich Village NYC, run through cornfields on the Welsh border and sat outside with a cup of tea watching fireflies in the fields of the outer Chicago suburbs.

I have held the hands of others through addiction, fear, suicide, despair and come out the other side. I have left everything behind to begin anew.
I have fought mental illness and walked through snow in the mountains of the lake district, England. I have explored the morgue in the bowels of an abandoned hospital on a summer evening, climbed to the top of scaffolding on the outside of a five floor warehouse to look at the city lights of Nottingham at night and I have watched the sun setting on the Texas horizon.

I have held my son's tiny hand through the plastic window on an isolette in the NICU ward. Walked, speaking only in whispers, through the catacombs beneath the ground on the outskirts of Rome and seen the fireworks over Heidelberg castle.